September 4, 2003
Purdue leaders plan to weave 'cyber community'
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Once you have the tools for world-class research, how do you best use them to benefit both your university and the outside community? That was the main issue addressed at Purdue University's Cyber-Infrastructure Workshop, a gathering that organizers say has generated encouraging response from the high-tech and pharmaceuticals industries.
The first phase of the workshop, held Aug. 18-19 at Purdue, was a cross-disciplinary gathering of experts from the Purdue community, including the deans of the schools of Science and Engineering and the director of Purdue's Discovery Park, among others. The group envisions a coordinated effort between science and technology on campus and, eventually, between the university and community as well.
"Our goal for the Cyber-Infrastructure Workshop is to determine how to build a campuswide environment at Purdue to foster innovative information technology efforts," said Jeffrey S. Vitter, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the School of Science. "A coordinated campuswide approach to cyber-infrastructure will provide an intellectual bridge among the developers of technology, the users of technology, and those who study how technology and society interact."
Cyber-infrastructure is a term whose meaning is still evolving, but the idea goes beyond computer networks as most of us understand them. As envisioned by computer experts, a functioning cyber-infrastructure should effectively unify a research group's hands, senses and memory, allowing them to collaborate to solve problems.
"Computers have revolutionized society before, first through their ability to simulate the real world, then by connecting society via what we now know as the Internet," Vitter said. "Another revolution is possible, one in which we receive and process vast amounts of information needed to understand the world around us, obtain fundamental knowledge, and disseminate that knowledge through advanced communications."
With the increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary work, specialists are now acknowledging the immense potential for shared computing resources that will allow more effective collaboration. Vital to such work will be information technology (IT), a field in which Vitter said Purdue has already established itself. What is necessary, he said, is collaboration among those who will be using and building the IT infrastructure so it can benefit everyone involved.
"We seek to advance those areas in IT in which we are already national leaders, such as in information security, computational nanotechnology and wireless technologies, and to use those centers of excellence as a resource for all faculty across campus to create interesting new projects and applications of information technology in their disciplines," Vitter said.
In addition to university experts, the workshop also drew representatives from companies such as Microsoft and Eli Lilly and Co.
"Both Microsoft and Lilly encouraged us to have the second phase of the gathering with more industry representation," said James R. Bottum, vice president and Purdue CIO. "If we have the input of business leaders, our efforts here on campus could conceivably benefit more than just the university community they could benefit the state of Indiana, other research communities, the private sector and beyond."
Bottum also cited many government organizations that have recognized the need for a new cyber-infrastructure, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Academies, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. The NSF, one of the largest funding sources for research in the world, is particularly interested.
"The vast majority of recent NSF grants in IT have funded cyber-infrastructure in support of specific science and engineering disciplines," he said. "When they heard that we had our heads of science and engineering sitting down together to discuss a unified approach to cyber-infrastructure, they were quite impressed."
Vitter said that the creation of cyber-infrastructure, while still in its planning stages, is a necessary step in developing computers that can further strengthen the university and increase its value to the community.
"Creating this infrastructure will provide a seamless extension of the human capability and facilitate breakthroughs that will extend and improve the quality of life," he said. "By being the first university to create such an infrastructure, Purdue can maintain its eminence in the sciences, engineering, arts and humanities. We will be relegated to the intellectual backwaters if we do not participate in shaping this agenda."
Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Jeffrey S. Vitter, (765) 494-1764, email@example.com
James R. Bottum, (765) 496-2266, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com